On January 14, 2019, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed Executive Order 2019-03D.
The order established Ohio as a Disability Inclusion State and Model Employer of Individuals with Disabilities, energizing efforts by Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD), Ohio’s state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency.
In the fall of 2018, OOD established a new position and selected USAHS Occupational Therapy alumnus, Julie Wood, for the role. Her evolving position is the Worksite Accessibility Specialist for the Division of Employer and Innovation Services at OOD.
After 13 years of clinical practice in an Occupational Health/Vocational Rehabilitation setting, Wood decided to take ‘a road less traveled’ in the occupational therapy field. She joined OOD in November 2018 and has been molding her new position ever since.
“Julie epitomizes exactly what we hope OT professionals will do,” USAHS Dean of the College of Health Sciences Dr. Cindy Mathena said. “She has identified an occupational deficit and need and developed a unique pathway to a solution.”
OOD provides individualized services to assist Ohioans with disabilities to gain the skills and competencies they need to compete for jobs in Ohio’s growing economy. OOD’s Business Relations Team partners with more than 500 Ohio employers to source candidates for in-demand jobs. The Team also provides no-cost disability etiquette and awareness training and worksite accessibility services to strengthen employers’ efforts to be a diverse and inclusive workplace.
Kristen Ballinger, Deputy Director of the Division of Employer and Innovation Services, explained that the agency partners with businesses to provide services and with community providers to connect job seekers with disabilities to employment opportunities.
“We need to learn about the business’ needs in order to help them build a more diverse employee base,” Ballinger said. One of the biggest factors employers wanted more information about was worksite accessibility, which led to the development of Wood’s position.
“Julie’s position is taking shape as we go,” Ballinger said. “She provides education to employers that we partner with, addressing questions about accessibility on the work site and identifying needs and goals for those employers to make work settings accessible.”
The state of Michigan also has a team pushing for a similar goal of workplace accessibility for workers with disabilities. Ballinger said the main difference between the Ohio and Michigan models is that Ohio provides more general recommendations to employers on making their worksite more accessible, and Michigan provides reasonable accommodation and accessibility consultations for individual workers and business.
“Julie is giving general information to employers to move the needle and open thoughts to accommodate people with disabilities,” Ballinger said.
Although this push for vocational rehabilitation is evolving and Ohio is making great strides, Wood would like businesses and employers nationwide to know the value an occupational therapist can bring to their workplace.
“OTs want to work in non-traditional roles, but the opportunities are slim,” Wood said.
Occupational therapists are interested in these types of jobs in communities and with businesses, and the knowledge and experience they have are a perfect fit, Wood explained.
“Julie had a passion to solve an issue that affects millions of consumers,” Dr. Mathena said. “She has developed a unique story in influencing and solving critical issues many Americans face.”